Projects for Peace Grant to Educate Women in Paraguay on Rights and Sexual Health

Francesca Ioffreda ’10 and Keila Novoa ’11 have been jointly awarded a prestigious $10,000 grant from the Davis Projects for Peace initiative for their program Alcanzando Nuevas Alturas (Reaching New Heights), aimed at implementing a sexual health and women’s rights awareness project in rural Paraguay.

Ioffreda and Novoa will be working alongside Fundacion Paraguaya, a nonprofit organization promoting entrepreneurship as a means to alleviate poverty. The two women will join Fundacion Paraguaya’s students and committee members to teach courses on sexual health and women’s rights, and train other women to do the same.

“It was important to us that we not impose our wishes or desires on our partner organization,” say Ioffreda and Novoa. “We realized that one of the most important things was to figure out the needs on the ground level and see where we could apply our skills, passion, and experience.”

After identifying a solid partner organization (Fundaci?n Paraguaya), the CMCers asked its organizers to identify key needs and areas for improvement. Their dialogue illuminated a project where the two students could apply their interests in women’s issues to a local need.

Ioffreda and Novoa’s project was inspired by Fundaci?n Paraguaya’s 2009 Overcoming of Poverty Project, that aims to eradicate poverty starting with Fundaci?n Paraguaya’s students and committee members. The project seeks to provide a solution to the sexual health and women’s rights poverty indicator by facilitating open dialogue, providing critical sexual health information, and increasing general awareness of women’s rights issues.

Ioffreda says the work with the women’s committees is the most important and far reaching aspect of their Davis project. She and Novoa will be working with Fundaci?n Paraguaya to cover 20 committees, by training three women delegates per committee60 women totalin the women’s rights and sexual health curriculum. Those three women then will serve as facilitators for the remaining members of each committee, organizing future courses and training additional facilitators.

“The women’s committee program will empower the elected delegates by training them as facilitators, and allowing them to take a leadership role in educating their peers,” Ioffreda says. “This model will create a ripple effect, as the trained women teach the rest of their committee members and train future facilitators who can in turn educate other women’s committees in the region. The overarching program goals are to reach thousands of women throughout Paraguay and empower them to apply what they have learned in their homes and personal life.”

Also included are provisions to reach out to the young. Novoa says part of the plan is educating 150 students at Fundaci?n Paraguaya’s agricultural school, through sexual health and women’s rights courses. The pair will be in the classroom four hours a week (one hour per class), for four weeks, for a total of 16 hours of course instruction.

The majority of their Davis Projects for Peace funding will be spent producing and printing educational materials, plus cover travel expenses for project members traversing Paraguay to teach courses to the women’s committees.

According to Abby Flores, CMC’s director of foundation and corporate relations, Ioffreda and Novoa’s Davis proposal was one of nine this year submitted by 18 CMC students. This year, 89 colleges were invited to participate in the program, with 127 projects selected for funding.
“The reputation of this program, now in its fourth year, has grown tremendously and receiving funding has become increasingly competitive,” Flores says. “There are very few programs that offer students the opportunity to complete a project of this type, and we are pleased that CMC students have fared so well in the competition to date.”

Flores says the proposal submitted by Ioffreda and Novoa contained several crucial components that the selection committee looks for in successful projects. Beyond having an interesting premise or tackling an important issue, successful proposals must speak to a level of sustainability once the summer has come to an end and the students have left the community.

“Francesca and Keila addressed this issue of sustainability in several ways,” says Flores, “working with an established organization that committed to assisting them, building a project around an existing network of community members, designing tools to be left behind for future lessons, and recognizing the importance of evaluating their project.

“Besides addressing a systemic issue in Paraguay and setting up the project for future success, Francesca and Keila also submitted a well thought-out and practical budget,” Flores adds.

“Our partnership with Fundaci?n Paraguaya and our training of women facilitators will ensure our program’s sustainability, Novoa says. “By training women facilitators and providing them with tested materials, the program and lessons will be widely disseminated, take on grassroots character, and have staying power long after we are gone.”

Although neither Ioffreda nor Novoa has traveled to Paraguay before, both have spent considerable time in Latin AmericaIoffreda in Argentina, Costa Rica, and Ecuador, and Novoa in Guatemala, working at a women’s shelter last summer.

Thrilled by their newest destination, the two CMCers also are looking forward to Paraguay for another reason. “We both are passionate about soccer and Paraguay qualified for this summer’s World Cup,” Novoa says, “so it will be an especially exciting time to be there.”

Ioffreda, an international relations and economics major, and Novoa, who is majoring in neuroscience, have their futures (or near-futures, at least) pretty well mapped out.

Ioffreda was recently awarded a research Fulbright to Colombia and will spend next year studying conditional cash-transfer programs in Colombia’s urban areas. Afterwards, she will work for Deloitte Consulting in San Francisco, with eventual plans to earn an MBA and devise and implement innovative programs to alleviate poverty in developing countries.

Novoa says she is applying for a Fulbright, and to the Peace Corps, after graduation, and plans to take time off after leaving CMC to work abroad in women’s issues. Future plans are to pursue a graduate degree that will integrate her interests in science and women’s issues, she says.

“We are both very fortunate in that CMC has provided us opportunities to travel and work first hand with grassroots organizations,” Ioffreda says.

In its fourth year, the Davis Projects for Peace initiative is the brainchild of philanthropist Kathryn W. Davis. University students from nearly 100 campuses will collectively receive more than $1 million in funding during the summer of 2010 for projects in all regions of the world.

Now 103 years old, Mrs. Davis launched the initiative on the occasion of her 100th birthday in 2007 with a challenge to today’s generation of college students to undertake innovative and meaningful projects.

Designed to encourage and support motivated youth to create and implement their ideas for building peace throughout the world in the 21st century, each of the more than 100 projects receives $10,000 in funding.